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Originally published July 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 26, 2007 at 2:06 AM

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Alki's new Lady Liberty still in waiting

It could be another year before a new replica of the beloved statue returns to Alki, and some fans are growing tired of the delay.

Seattle Times staff reporter

For Jo Ofsthus, bringing back Alki Beach's miniature Statue of Liberty means more than just returning a piece of art to the neighborhood.

It's personal.

Her late father lived just a few blocks from the statue, and countless times she and her ailing dad visited on the benches near Lady Liberty. Ofsthus loved Alki Beach so much that she moved there 15 years ago, to an apartment a block from the statue.

The copper-skinned Lady Liberty — battered by decades of salt water, wind and vandalism — was taken down last July by a local arts group to be replaced by a new, stronger replica made of bronze.

Northwest Programs for the Arts (NPA) raised the money for the replacement, which was completed a few months ago from a mold of the original. The statue was expected to be installed in May.

But the new Lady Liberty still sits at the Tacoma foundry where it was cast. It could be another year before it returns to Alki.

Management at NPA changed earlier this year, and the project stalled. A plan to construct a new plaza for Lady Liberty may add further delays.

On Monday, Ofsthus and more than two dozen people who were tired of waiting gathered where Lady Liberty used to stand to talk about how to get the statue back.

A gathering place

A new committee — led by Paul and Libby Carr, an Alki couple who first met near the statue — has been formed to organize Lady Liberty's return.

"She wants to go back home, and that's what we're here to do," Libby Carr said.

But before the statue again faces Puget Sound, the Carrs said they want to raise $135,000 to $150,000 to build the new plaza and ship the 700-pound statue from Tacoma.

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They also need to get their neighbors and the city Parks Department behind the plan.

Alki's Statue of Liberty is a 7 ½-foot version of the real one in New York Harbor. But it isn't an exact copy. The face resembles a girl's more than a woman's, and the crown and torch are not the dimensions of the original. The figure is slightly stockier, too.

The statue arrived at Alki in 1952, part of a nationwide project by the Boy Scouts. More than 200 of these miniature Lady Liberties were erected across the country, said Andrea Mercado, director of the Log House Museum in West Seattle.

At Alki, the statue became a landmark and a gathering place for the neighborhood.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Ofsthus and her neighbor draped an American flag over the statue's torch, dozens of people stopped by, and the statue became a spontaneous mourning spot. Impromptu candlelight vigils for fallen soldiers from the Iraq war have been held there, too.

"Everybody says, 'Meet at the statue,' " Ofsthus said.

Just bring her back

Some neighbors just want Lady Liberty back, even if that means putting the statue up on the old pedestal.

Another faction supports building a new plaza, which was designed by two local architects for free. Others propose temporarily putting the statue in the beach's bathhouse. Wrangling over which direction the statue should face also is expected.

Whatever is decided, the city Parks Department must approve the plans first, said parks spokeswoman Dewey Potter.

The Carrs are optimistic they will raise enough money in the next few months to complete the work.

And once the new neighborhood committee obtains nonprofit status, NPA likely will hand over the project, said Holly Santos, NPA's development director.

The new statue is made of bronze and should withstand any abuse. The old one was made of a thin layer of copper that is more vulnerable to the elements and vandals, said Kevin Keating, general manager of the Bronze Works, the foundry where the new statue was created.

The old statue will find a home at the Log House Museum.

For the time being, the new Lady Liberty will keep its bronze exterior. The coating to give it the familiar greenish look won't be applied until the statue is ready to be shipped.

Those who have seen the new Lady Liberty were impressed.

"She's stunning," Mercado said.

Manuel Valdes: mvaldes@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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